It’s an alarming warning that every American should hear — leaders of the Islamic State are determined to strike targets in the United States.
And they’re planning to do so this year, possibly using Middle Eastern refugees according to senior U.S. intelligence officials.
In a meeting with lawmakers on Tuesday, Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that a small group of violent extremists will do anything in their power to mount such an attack, and that the United States should remain vigilant against these outside threats.
At their testimony before congressional committees, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and other officials described ISIS as the “pre-eminent terrorist threat.” The militant group can “direct and inspire attacks against a wide range of targets around the world,” Clapper said.
Stewart said ISIS is likely planning additional attacks in Europe and then will attempt the same in the U.S. He also said that ISIS is using the refugee crisis to sneak fighters into countries around the world, a statement that is sure to renew calls to close American borders.
Clapper also said al-Qaida, from which ISIS spun off, remains an enemy and the U.S. will continue to see cyber threats from China, Russia and North Korea, which also is ramping up its nuclear program.
North Korea has expanded a uranium enrichment facility and restarted a plutonium reactor that could begin recovering material for nuclear weapons in weeks or months, Clapper said in delivering the annual assessment by intelligence agencies of the top dangers facing the country.
Clapper said that Pyongyang announced in 2013 its intention to refurbish and restart nuclear facilities, to include the uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon and its plutonium production reactor, which was shut down in 2007. He said U.S. intelligence had assessed that North Korea has expanded Yongbyon and restarted the plutonium production reactor there.
Clapper also told the Senate Armed Services and intelligence committees that North Korea has been operating the reactor long enough that it could begin to recover plutonium “within a matter of weeks to months.”
Both findings will deepen concern that North Korea is not only making technical advances in its nuclear weapons program, following its recent underground test explosion and rocket launch, but is working to expand what is thought to be a small nuclear arsenal.
On the cyber threat, Clapper said U.S. information systems, controlled by the U.S. government and American industry, are vulnerable to cyberattacks from Russia and China.
Clapper said China selectively uses cyberattacks against targets Beijing believes threaten Chinese domestic stability or regime legitimacy.
“We will monitor compliance with China’s September 2015 commitment to refrain from conducting or knowingly supporting cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property with the intent of providing competitive advantage to companies or commercial sectors,” he said.
North Korea “probably remains capable and willing to launch disruptive or destructive cyberattacks to support its political objectives,” he said.
Moscow “is assuming a more assertive cyber posture” that is based on its willingness to target critical infrastructure and carry out espionage operations even when those operations have been detected and under increased public scrutiny, Clapper said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.